22 July, 2014

Skokholm-scapes

I feel privileged to be able to call this beautiful, unassuming island my home for the next few months...











14 July, 2014

Skokholm moths

Thrift Clearwing

Much of my day on Skokholm is spent monitoring seabird colonies, with a particular emphasis at the moment spent studying breeding success in Fulmars and providing assistance with the ongoing Storm-petrel tape playback sessions around the island in an effort to understand more about the island's breeding population of Stormies. 

When the time allows, I've been keeping a butterfly net close at hand in an effort to catch, identify and ultimately increase the coverage of the island's (rather poorly known) micro moths. There have already been some quality finds including a sprinkling of new island records. My walk around the Fulmar study plot takes in some fantastic sheer cliffs, with lush colonies of Sea Campion and Thrift and the specialist moths that depend on them. Thrift Clearwing took a while to find, but eventually showed beautifully on a recent sunny morning, and Caryocolum vicinella was a nice find in one of the cliff-top hides...

Caryocolum vicinella

Anania crocealis

Eudonia lineola

Aethes rubigana

When the weather, time and fuel allows, I'm hoping to whip out the big Mercury Vapour trap for some hardcore island moth-trapping. Watch this space...

08 July, 2014

Coastal lichens

Another calm & sunny, if slightly busy morning yesterday on Skokholm saw the departure of the Cardiff field group and their many bags of luggage back to mainland Pembrokeshire. Whilst it was sad to say goodbye to a great bunch of folk and the fantastic Storm-petrel monitoring equipment they had bought with them, it was also nice to welcome a new set of faces ready to enjoy the island. One of the great things I've found about island life is the variety of different characters you get to meet as the weeks go by, each travelling for a different reason and each with their own interests to share.

This week we've been joined by John Jones, a 'lichenologist' who's been studying the species of Skokholm for the past 20 years; running various island field courses throughout his time. You can't walk the cliffs without appreciating the array of low-growing plants, lichens and mosses all tucked away in various crevices, so it was fascinating to be able to learn a little more about them in the presence of an expert. Upon arrival, he wasted no time in pointing out the beautiful Golden Hair Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans) and Roccella fuciformis on a nearby stone wall- two of the rarest lichens in Britain just metres away from our rooms!



You really do learn something new everyday in this place.

05 July, 2014

I'm on Skokholm!

I've been on Skokholm for a week now and can safely say the island is more fantastic than I ever imagined. Dean (fellow long-term volunteer) and myself arrived here back on Monday, just in time to greet a great bunch of students from Cardiff University carrying out their field study projects on the island. We've been guided straight into island seabird monitoring by wardens Richard & Giselle, with Razorbill and Lesser Black-backed Gull chick ringing in the past few days, as well as an ongoing Puffin burrow occupation study and a Fulmar nest monitoring project that I've become hooked on. The latter involves heading out to the cliffs each morning to note the progress of a study plot of Fulmar nests, allowing some magical views of breeding Guillemots as they fatten their chicks up ready for the 'plunge' off the cliff into the sea below!

Razorbill

Razorbill chick ringing

Bluebells in July...? Only on Skokholm!

The days are busy, with much of the morning spent maintaining all aspects of the farm, but it's worth it just to be able to spend the rest of the day birding the island and appreciating every aspect of the island's beauty. The number of Manx Shearwaters nesting on the island is mind-boggling, and I've been spending the past couple of nights outside in pitch darkness, listening to their haunting calls echoing out of their underground burrows. There was even time to twitch a cheeky Black Redstart found in the garden whilst I was eating breakfast a couple of days ago.

Black Redstart

Moths are about, and in remarkably high numbers. I've dedicated myself to the fairly arduous task of collaborating all previous moth records from the island into a more user-friendly annotated checklist, which should keep me busy on a rainy day. It's still early days, but there have already been some interesting finds. The Star-wort and Caryocolum vicinella are both coastal specialities which are notable to Skokholm; the latter is one of at least three species which I've identified as new to the island. Hopefully there will be more to come!

Star-wort

Caryocolum vicinella

The island vibes are great, and if it carries on at this rate the next three months look set to be absolutely mental! You can keep up to date with our daily goings on through the Skokholm blog itself. Well worth a read.

29 June, 2014

Goodbye civilisation

Back in the spring I was successful in applying for one of two long-term volunteer slots on Skokholm, an island off the Pembrokeshire coast, to assist the wardens in the daily monitoring of breeding and migrant birds, as well as helping survey other wildlife and ensuring the smooth general running of the island. It's come around amazingly quickly, and so tomorrow I shall be swapping the hustle and bustle of urbania for a very much more simple life on the island until October, hopefully taking in the best of the summer and autumn season!

With remote island life comes the inevitable (and rather welcome) cut in internet connection. If things do suddenly go silent on the blogging front you'll know why, but with any luck it'll be useable enough to get a few posts up every now and again. In the meantime I'll leave you with some fantastic plant life from the Canons Farm botany walk last week, spent in the great company of Steve Gale (of North Downs and Beyond fame), Beddington's Peter Alfrey and Canons Farm local patcher David Campbell...

Bee Orchid

Cut-leaved Germander- one of the rarest plants in Britain, believe it or not.

Yellow Bird's-nest

27 June, 2014

In the moth trap last night...

... were four footmen, each a little weirder than the last:

Hoary Footman

Scarce Footman

Common Footman

Buff Footman

26 June, 2014

Goodbye moth

Running a few errands up in town, I made a brief detour to the Natural History Museum to meet veteran Lepidoptera curator Martin Honey, and to hand over Euchromius cambridgei (see more here) for pinning and further examination. After filling in the relevant donor form, I was given a peek at the surprisingly large existing collection of the genus Euchromius; consisting of four shelves of around 50 species, with most originating from around the Mediterranean and Middle East.

The whereabouts of the only other British record is unknown, but as is often the case with interesting insects, many unfortunately find themselves hidden away in private or personal collections, never to be seen again- or only to be thrown away many years later by nonchalant relatives. No doubt this moth will be in good hands with the rest of the historical collection...



23 June, 2014

North Downs moth-trapping


Putting aside the obvious mammalian highlight, last Saturday's all-nighter at Juniper Bottom (a picturesque chalk valley in the North Downs complex) also turned out to a successful one for moth-trapping... bar a slight glitch in the early hours of the morning when a drunk farmer turned up at the car park exclaiming that 20 of his cows (which should have been in one of the fields we were trapping in) had turned up at his house further down the road! He was understandably sullen, but soon realised that we didn't have a key to open the gate leading to the field, and that it was open when we arrived. Thankfully, the field was quickly re-cowed.

It was a fairly run-of-the-mill moth catch for the regulars, whilst I was prancing and skipping backwards and forwards between the traps (not really), soaking in a fantastic range of species I could never have hoped to catch in my own garden...

Wood Carpet

Pretty Chalk Carpet

Satin Beauty

Red-necked Footman

Agapeta zoegana

Perinephela lancealis

Pelochrista caecimaculana

22 June, 2014

An encounter with a Dormouse


I've been running a moth trap long enough now to know that anything can turn up after dark. However, out of all the things I could realistically have expected to encounter during last night's trapping session on Box Hill, a Dormouse wasn't high on the list.

Nevertheless, this golden-brown beauty had all four of us weak at the knees when it suddenly popped out from behind a fence post in the early hours of this morning as we examined the contents of one of eight moth traps set-up in the Box Hill area last night. None of us had ever seen a Dormouse before nor knew anything of its typical nocturnal antics, but I can't imagine that this is a typical way to encounter one.


It quietly observed us through huge, bulging eyes for three hours- adjusting its position every so often to keep us in view- before disappearing into the night as quickly as it had appeared.

20 June, 2014

Scarce 7-spot Ladybird

Judging from the musings I post on the internet, you no doubt think that I'm now constantly pre-occupied by moths. You're right, but every now and again I do try to allow myself to look at something different. Yesterday I visited Esher Common, a local patch which has served me well in recent years for invertebrates (especially dragonflies), this time to scrutinise the many colonies of Formica 'wood ants' which thrive along the woodland-heathland fringes.

I was searching in particular for a beetle- the Scarce 7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella magnifia), which as its name suggests is very much less common than the 'standard' 7-spot Ladybird many will no doubt be familiar with in their gardens. The Scarce 7-spot is extremely restricted in its habitat preferences, being found only in very close proximity to wood ant colonies where both insects appear to live in mutual harmony. To put it in a more jazzy term (which I didn't know existed until just now), the ladybird is a 'myrmecophile'.

Even in prime habitat, the beetle seems to be far from abundant. Previous to yesterday I'd swept around a good 20 odd nests on the nearby Oxshott Heath with no luck, although I did find another cool myrmecophile in the form of Clytra quadripunctata. It wasn't until peering over another dozen ant nests on Esher Common that I finally caught a glimpse of the ladybird, typically by a nest on the main path I'd initially walked down!

Quite similar in appearance to 7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata), the larger central spots, smaller frontal spots and more bulbous elytra help pick out Scarce 7-spot. It also has 4 spots on its underside as opposed to 2. 


The first ladybird I found was actively crawling over a the nest, whilst a few others were perched on vantage points near to or above the nests.



It was fantastic to watch as one ladybird clumsily barged its way through a colony, all the while ferocious worker ants carried off all means of insect prey items back into their nest! Ants would often go up and investigate the ladybird, but would soon lose interest. Reading through some previous studies, it doesn't seem as though any other ladybird is able to withstand aggression from ants in the same way as the Scarce 7-spot. Here's a video I took...


What a ballsy beetle!

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